You Have an Agent….What Happens Next?

Nothing can bring more joy, and then confusion, than when an agent asks to see your manuscript and then subsequently sends you a contract. But before I begin, let’s start with your work. Do not, under any circumstance, submit your work to any agent unless your manuscript is complete, and has been edited.  By edited I mean edited by a professional editor. If an agent loves your submission they will ask to see your work. . . . every word until The End.

An agent will send you a contract. Whether you are self-published, or have waited patiently for years to find an agent, when the contract arrives you must shelve your excitement and shift into business mode.

Writing is a business. Remember that sentence; it is important.

Authors tend to experience what I call, “A Sally Field” moment. When an agent, or publishing company, asks to see your work we think: they like me . . . they really like me.

However, an agent didn’t request to see your manuscript because s/he likes you. Your agent requested to see your manuscript because they saw something in your submission they thought they could sell to a publishing house. Something in your characters, or your story- or both – caught their eye and at that moment your agent, or publisher, thought I can turn this manuscript into a sellable book.

Publishing a book, while exciting and euphoric for you, is a business transaction for the team working on your manuscript.

Here are your agent’s duties:

* Read through your manuscript and locate a market for your work

* Work with you to create a sellable manuscript. This means editing your submission (This is a non-negotiable step. Your manuscript will require additional edits (plural) once a publisher accepts it. More on that later.

*  Network with everyone they can think of to sell your book

*  Sell your book

*  Negotiate the best price possible for your book

*  Negotiate the legal contract with the publisher (authors should prepare for a two-book deal)

*  Receive royalties and distribute them to you, the author

*  The agent will not, help you market your book.

My Agent Sold My Book . . . Now What?

At this phase, you, the author, are ready to see the printed book.

You still have months, (more like a year) to wait until your book is ready. During that time, please work on your second manuscript. (You will thank me later).

Once a publisher has expressed interest and your agent has sent you another contract, the manuscript goes into what I call “the hopper.” Big publishing houses meticulously schedule the release of their titles. By September, publishers know every title they will release the following year. Your book will have a “birthday.” Its birthday is non-negotiable. Remember, writing is a business. The publishing company works hard to stay in business. Therefore, the team working on your book knows the precise moment the readers will welcome your book. You, the author, do not.

What Do You Mean I need to Re-edit My Book?

Fledgling authors and those who have previously self-published often get confused when they learn that their book will require further edits. Let’s be honest, editing is an expensive step that most self-published authors skip. If you have previously self-published, most likely you have asked your spouse, your momma, and your best friend to read your work. These are the same people who won’t tell you when you have spinach in your teeth, or toilet paper attached to the bottom of your shoe. They maybe teachers, English majors, and your most trusted advisor, but riddle me this, what do they know about the business of books?

Publishing houses have staff devoted to editing your book. They edit books for breakfast. Not to offend, but your Momma does not.

What is my editor’s job?:

In short, your assigned editor has one job. Molding the manuscript your agent submitted into something readers will like well enough to read from cover to cover.

Your editor’s job is not:

Being your new best friend; your editor already has friends.

Tiptoeing around your ego; your editor is paid to work on paragraphs, not your psyche.

Arguing with you about the finer points of Southern Vernacular or local slang.

So What is My Editor’s Job?

Your editors (notice the plural) will take your manuscript and cut it, mold it, then send it back to you with cryptic messages like: tighten this.

What does that mean?

When I work with authors I try to ease them into the real world of publishing, but here are the facts, most authors who have previously self published did so because they needed control. They wanted to “own” their work and they did not want to go through the painful gestational book-pregnancy-period. Secretly, they wanted an agent and a large publishing house, but only if that meant they could control every aspect of their book.

Ouch. Did you expect anything but honesty from me?

Veteran Authors understand that editing is a crucial phase. They trust their editors. Editing will occur. Authors can either work with their editor to create something wonderful, or bash themselves against stones and burn out on the publishing process.

Have you forgotten, you signed a two-book deal?

In short, editing is about trust. You no longer own your book, you signed those rights away during the agent-euphoria process. Your endorsement of the contract meant I trust you to convert my manuscript into something readers will love.

What does Editing Look Like?

I know what you are thinking, what a ridiculous heading. I know what editing looks like. Oh my friend, perhaps you do not. Editing has many faces. Consider this example.

Self-publishing Editing

Momma and ’em have looked at your work and pronounced it (and you) perfect. Just cross a couple t’s and add a few comas and you’re good to go. (They do not mention the spinach in your teeth).

Vanity-press Editing

For clarity, the term “vanity” press is industry-defined as a company the author pays to take their document and convert it into a bound book. Very little editing-other than a cursory read-through- is done. You pay them. They deliver a book and off you go to pound the pavement and sell your book. Perhaps you have tried this in the past and determined there was a better way, hence the agent and larger press.

Small-press and Academic- Press Editing

Small presses are legitimate, hard-working presses who release a dozen or so carefully selected titles. Their editing process goes like this. You deliver a hard-copy manuscript. An editor marks on it, returns it to you and expects you to make the corrections they suggest.

That is phase one.

Phase two comes after you have made the suggested corrections. The editor reviews your corrections (not the entire manuscript again, they do not have time), the book goes to the next phase, and the next employee. I should also add that most-likely you will not know your editor. Small presses rarely reveal the identity of their editing staff. That protects their employees from fledgling insecure authors who believe their submission will be a NYT bestseller.

Middle and Large-Press Editing

Most editing is done electronically.

The author receives an e-document that has been edited using the “track changes” option.  Portions of the manuscript may have moved from one place to another in order to create “better flow.” The editor, who is a professional and expects that they are working with the same, writes what may appear as cryptic messages: (remove echo, tighten, dialect, flesh out character, more movement, redundant, this is a “darling, kill it”) just to name a few.

By the way a “darling” is perhaps your favorite part of the manuscript. Don’t get married to it my dear, odds are you love it too much. (More on darlings in a later post).

An editor works for your manuscript, not you, the author. The editor is devoted to words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters. If an author becomes angry, puffed up and argumentative their road will be long and rocky. Enter into this the time-frame. Readers are wishy-washy. They love vampires one day, zombies the next. As an aside, do not write about either. And, since the book industry is ever-changing one should expect this. Authors should be very careful during the editing stage. Learn to separate yourself from your emotions. People talk and it takes one word to ruin your career. One. Making a correction to your manuscript is not the end of the world; it is part of the pruning process. Pruning makes you a better author (we can all use a little pruning); and, pruning your manuscript allows it to grow

I have a New Editor . . . Now What?

Employee turnover is common, perhaps even expected, in the publishing industry. It is rare to have the same editor two books in a row. It is also rare to have an agent for an extended period of time. The same editor who worked on the last New York Times Bestseller had honed her skills for years. She knew the business, knew the readers, and knew how to take a good manuscript and make it better. She has just received a promotion within the company. She is an Agent now and has just handed your manuscript over to someone who now works for her. That new editor may send you a second “round of edits” because the new editor knows how to hone a good manuscript into a great book.

My First Book is Out and Now Everything Has Changed Again . . . What do I do?

You have experienced the emotional highs and lows of editing, and survived. Now it is time to write the second book in your two-book contract. You’ve learned a lot: shelved your emotions, perfected your craft. Congratulations. Your next manuscript will be better than the first. But wait, you have been assigned another new editor who wants you to submit your content as you write.

Yes. As you write.

By your second book, the publisher expects that the author has learned to submit their best work. Your editor is investing their time in another fledgling author, which is why they ask you to submit your work in fifty page increments. If you have a completed manuscript editors will, of course, accept it as a whole. However, if you have incomplete work they want to see it as well. They will edit as you write, which may or may not be a comfortable situation for an author. This new process allows an editor to mold the story from the beginning. Once completed there will be another round of edits before copy-editing (which is proofreading and fitting the words to the pages as they will appear in the finished book).

Hopefully, this lengthy blog post has explained the editing process. If you have questions, please leave them in the comment section. Feel free to share any editorial experiences you have had. As always, I believe that knowledge is power. The more educated you can be about the process, the less stress you feel during the book gestation period. There is a reason seasoned authors call their work a “book baby.” The delivery process is rarely without pain, but once you hold your baby for the first time everything you have experienced is worth the journey.

My best to you, always.

GEORGIAWRITERSPHOTORenea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, & Fried Bologna Sandwiches which  Mercer University Press will release in September and Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination.  Those confused about the publishing process should purchase a copy of her book, Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author.  Renea is the judge of many prestigious Georgia Author awards, and is part of the Make Your Mark Publishing editing team. Meet Renea in Savannah at the Red Clay Conference Georgia’s Moveable Literary Feast where she will lead a workshop and offer critiques. Reserve a space for your manuscript here. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.

Advertisements

Book Launch: The Beginning of Your Journey

Many self-published authors fail to understand the impact a book launch has on future sales. Some may not even know what a book launch is (insert gasp!). So let me rewind just a second. A book launch is perhaps the single most important event in the life of your work, a birthday if you will, a coming out party, where you announce to the beauty of your newborn. Please, do not publish a title without first planning a launch.

What do I need? Every book deserves a book launch (or three). This grand event is one of joy, excitement, and of course…sales. Those who have read Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author know that it takes approximately two months to plan an adequate launch. You need to reserve a venue, plan for light refreshments, speak to friends who take photos, and —don’t forget—make certain you have enough copies of your work on hand.

Imagine selling 250 copies of your title. That is what happened during my book launch.

Finding a Venue: Since I am a North Carolina native, and also lived in Tennessee for an extended period of time, and currently live in Georgia, my first title: In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes had three separate launches, one for each state. Find a venue that either compliments your character, or the theme of your book. Listen to your characters, they will tell you where to hold their birthday party.

Launching your book doesn’t have to be fancy.

Setting a Budget: Be realistic about sales and set a budget. Notice that the “sign” for the Billy launch is hand-made and attached to his truck. Refreshments were popcorn and lemonade, all perfect for a garden book launch.

Confused?: If all of this seems overwhelming, consider asking an independent bookseller for help. That being said, do not…repeat not contact them two weeks prior to the release demanding that they work with you. Business people need advance notice, and time to acquire your title. If you are self-published you will need to partner with the seller, not try to boss them around (trust me, that happens). Refer to Stress-free Marketing; Practical Advice for tips on how to approach booksellers, and also read these two post about approaching booksellers the wrong way, and approaching them the correct way.

Invitations: Mail post-card size invitations to the list of contacts you have acquired. Include a link to your website, and these important words, copies of the book will be available for purchase.

Standing room only and sell out book launches can happen. I’m living proof.

 Don’t forget: On the day of the event, don’t forget to have change for those who will pay with cash and a way of taking credit card payments unless you have specified on the invitation that payment will be accepted by cash or check.

These are just a few of the things one needs to have a successful launch. Once the day has ended you will also need to use the photos taken at the event to generate publicity to keep the momentum and excitement about your book progressing.

Keep writing dear ones.

Renea Winchester is an award-winning author who is currently working on her third book. When she isn’t writing she volunteers at the local library. Visit her at www.reneawinchester. Or Twitter at: Reneawinchester

Questions from Workshop Participants

The most common question I receive from workshop participants is, “How do I get my book in bookstores?”

While ultimately the decision to shelve your book depends on the owner, here is a simple tip that worked for me.

Send readers to their store.

If you want a bookseller to consider your book, they must know they can sell it. (Step One: Write a perfect-error free book about interesting subject matter). 

An aside: I once visited a pitch session with an agent. A pitch session is where you meet an agent and tell them about your book. If they like your “sales pitch,” they request a copy of your manuscript. Anyway, the woman beside me was pitching her book which featured a talking racoon. After the author described her book as the next Art of Racing in the Rain, the agent kindly explained she wasn’t interested and couldn’t sell the story concept.

“So, can I send you the manuscript?” the author asked.

Dear ones, you will not be like that lady. There is a thin line between assertiveness and career-ending pushy behavior.

All of the booksellers I know have owned their store for years (read decades); this means they knows what their customers read. Take a moment to consider this chart from Publishers Weekly:

Understanding how readers find books is crucial for author's attempting to reaching them.

While I am on that subject let me ask this question, “do you spend money in the store you have approached?” Do you have a relationship with the owner?

Good. Keep shopping at the store.

People also  try a variety of methods to trick booksellers into stocking their books. A common technique is having a friend pose as publicist or agent. This is the BIGGEST mistake an author could ever make. For those who have yet to read my book, you will soon learn that everyone knows everyone in this business. Pretty-pretty please with sugary sprinkles on top,  do not do this to yourself. Do not take your book  into the store, (or have your momma, g-ma, preacher, sister, brother or another obscure relative shove self-published pages under the owner’s nose) and then proceed to tell them you have written the best book since the Bible. Certainly, do not call a bookstore and tell them I sent you. Lawhavemercy.

This is exactly the behavior that will ruin your career, before you even have a career.

You are a professional. You will research and understand how to approach a bookseller before actually doing it. Understand that not every store will stock your book. Not every store stocked my first book. This is the nature of the business. Once you read Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author you will realize the value of their shelf space and the pressure to turn books around quickly.

Dear ones, there is no “fast track” in the writing world. You  must earn your place on the shelves of bookstores with time, patience and a following of readers who adore that perfectly flawless book you have written. Some books never get into the bookstore. They still sell well. They still have a following of readers. Many factors determine the success of your book; professionalism is one of them.

Hope to see you soon.

Hugs,

Renea Winchester

www.reneawinchester.com

Standing Out Among Other Titles

Trivia time.  Without looking, guess how many titles are on Amazon?

Insert Jeopardy music.

Can readers find you?

According to Amazon, there are 8 million titles available either in print or electronic format. Instantly, the question becomes how can anyone find my book in the midst of so many titles?

Not to repeat myself, but you cannot create a nationally recognized name for yourself , which translates into sales outside of your home state and wider recognition, if you do not first invest the time to create a local name. Take heed, emerging authors, I speak directly to you. Authors who successfully sell eBooks incorporate many tactics. A few examples are: creating a web following, establishing a powerful social media presence and generating word-of-mouth advertising. All are done before publication.

All over night success stories takes years to create.

Why in the world would you invest years of your life, to pursue publication, only to expend energy doing the wrong things. It did take you years…right? Please tell me that you aren’t self-pubbing an unedited rendition of your NaNoWriMo assignment; or worse, submitting a smoking-hot manuscript to a power agent. Pretty please, tell me that you have paid an editor, had complete strangers read your work, let the manuscript cool, re-read, prayed, meditated, corrected and re-read (out loud) the entire manuscript before sending it to an agent, publisher, or printer.

Please, tell me you understand the difference between a printer and a publisher, and that you are not going to put your name on something that isn’t ready. Books take years (plural) to ripen. You do not want to know how many emerging authors email me in a panic. Whether they have found me after attending one of my workshops, or by referral from another author, the stories are always the same. They paid $ 5,000 for 50 copies; $20,000 for a thousand copies; they have books to sell (now); they are in crisis mode. As my mother says they have, “got the cart before the horse.” They have self-published, loaded their trunk with a shiny baby and now suffer new parent angst.

Dear author, I am not equipped to solve this type of unsolvable, yet simplistically preventable catastrophe. Unfortunately, no one can. The best I can offer is that you consider my words now, before making an irreparable mistake.

I see you.

I want your work to stand out, in a good way. Because if you don’t do the research before publishing, odds are high your work will not get the recognition you think it deserves.

 Further, if you have caught a second wind after completing NaNoWriMo, join a critique group. Join a local authors guild. Find a reading group. Take the necessary steps to polish your work first. The world should first meet you as a confident author, not a desperate one.

 You can stand out in a crowd, either in a good way, or a not-so-good way. The choice is yours.

Renea Winchester is the author of Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. Her first book titled: In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes, earned a SIBA nomination and a Georgia Author of the Year nomination. She is an award-winning author who believes in the value of community and relationships. Her work has appeared in various magazines, anthologies, and literary journals. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com